Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Great New England Apple Pie Contest’

"Great New England Apple Pie" winner Lori Meiners points to her pie as a spectator prepares to sample it after the judging. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Great New England Apple Pie” winner Lori Meiners points to her pie as a spectator prepares to sample it after the judging. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

While neither the maple leaf pie nor the dragonfly won awards, they were noteworthy for their beautiful presentation. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

While neither the maple leaf pie nor the dragonfly won awards, they were noteworthy for their beautiful presentation. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

 2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

JUDGING BEGAN earlier this year, late morning rather than early afternoon, and that meant a change in routine. Like a finely-tuned runner on marathon day, I had to carefully consider what to eat, and when, in advance of the competition, my fourth time serving as a judge at the annual “Great New England Apple Pie Contest.” The event was held Saturday, October 19, during the first day of Wachusett Mountain’s weekend-long AppleFest.

I needed just enough to blunt my appetite so that I would not be tempted to wolf down the first few entries. Caution is the word when you have to taste more than 40 pies in two hours; to continue the running metaphor, if you go out too fast at the beginning of the race, you will pay for it later on.

For the same reason, I needed to go light on breakfast. Too much food in my stomach and I might not make it through the day’s pies. I chose a small bowl of cereal about three hours before the judging began.

Now in its fourth year, the contest has grown in size, resulting in the earlier start. For the second year, Rick Leblanc of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources joined New England Apple Association Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks and me on the five-person panel of judges, with on-air radio personalities Chris Zito of WSRS and Ginny Sears of WTAG, both in Worcester.

One of the more unusual apple pies had a bacon latticework top. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

One of the more unusual apple pies had a bacon latticework top. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE RED-AND-WHITE checkered tables beneath a tent and a crisp October sky gave the event the informal atmosphere of a bake sale or church supper. But the long tables were laid out with impressive-looking apple pies of all descriptions, no two exactly the same.

Some pies had elaborately sculpted, crumb, or latticed crusts, some were arranged artfully in picnic baskets or surrounded by apples and foliage. Others came with no frills — just straightforward apple pie.

The pies are graded on presentation and appearance, but this is largely subjective, and in any event we judges agreed that the greater weight in our scores should go to flavor, crust, and texture. When it comes to looks, though, I am more partial to a beautiful, hand-crafted fluting around the pie’s edges than I am to a nice container, although both contribute to the pie’s sensory pleasure.

It is hard to make generalizations after sampling the efforts of 43 different bakers, mostly women. Almost any apple variety — or combination — can succeed in a well-made pie. Apple pies should be lightly spiced; I love nutmeg, but a little goes a long way. Less sugar usually means more apple flavor. A consistently flaky crust can take years of practice.

Cranberry Apple Pie, from the 2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Cranberry Apple Pie, from the 2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

WE BEGAN with eight pies in the “Apple and Other” category, and there were some outstanding ones with cranberries and pecans. Last year’s winner in the “Apple Only” category, Patricia Kuhn Bonita of Winthrop, Massachusetts, entered a pie featuring apples with Asian pear, but the pear flavor did not come through.

Bonita, a veteran pie-maker and winner at other contests, took the feedback in stride, especially since her friend, Anita Mochi, also of Winthrop, won the category with her Apple Praline Pie.

Then it was on to nearly three dozen “Apple Only” pies. Pacing myself with just two bites of each and cleansing my palate with water in between, I was fine until the last six or seven. I was able to maintain my focus during the judging, but for the first time I looked forward to the end.

Every last bite was worth it, though. Lori Meiners of Hubbardston, Massachusetts, won first prize in the “Apple Only” category with her delicious rendition of New England’s favorite dessert. The final scores were close, and we had to resample two pies in order to decide between the second- and third-place winners.

It is inspirational to see the combined efforts of so many proud and imaginative bakers, and humbling to evaluate their delicious but perishable works of art. I hope I am invited back to try again next year.

Lori Meiners’ Apple Pie

For the crust (makes 2 pies):

4 c unsifted flour, spooned lightly into cup

1 T sugar

2 t coarse salt

1-3/4 c shortening

1 T cider vinegar

1 egg

1/2 c water

For the filling:

8 large New England Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut up

3/4 c white sugar

1/4 c brown sugar

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t ground nutmeg

2 T flour

2 T butter, cut into pieces

For the wash:

1 egg yolk

1 T sour cream

1 t water

1. Prepare the crust:

In a large bowl, use a fork to mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the shortening until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, gently whisk together vinegar, egg, and water. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Divide dough into four portions, quickly form into discs, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

2. Prepare the filling:

Peel, core, and slice the apples into a large, heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over apples until just covered, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain water and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour, and set aside.

3. Assemble the pie:

Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out the dough: generously flour flat surface and both sides of the dough. Roll out to 1/4″ thick. Place in pie pan. Pour apples into pan. Add butter pieces, spread out on top of apples. Pour sugar mixture over apples. Roll out top crust and place over apples. Trim edges so there is about 1/2″ of dough hanging over edge of pan. Fold dough under and pinch to seal. Cut several slits in the top crust to vent steam while baking. In a small bowl, mix egg yolk, sour cream, and water, and paint over top crust.

4. Bake:

Place pie in preheated 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Anita Mochi’s Apple Praline Pie

Crust:

2-1/4 c flour

1/4 t salt

1/2 c shortening

7 T butter

5-7 T water

Apples:

2 Cortland

2 Honeycrisp

2 Jonagold

1 Granny Smith

Blend together:

3 T butter

1/4 c brown sugar

1/4 c sugar

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1 t lemon juice

3-1/2 T flour

Praline topping:

In small saucepan, melt 1/4 c butter, 1/2 c brown sugar, 2 T cream. Bring to boil. Remover from heat and stir in 1/2 c pecans. Spread over pie shell and return to oven for five minutes.

The crowd had a chance to taste the entries while waiting for the winners to be announced. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The crowd had a chance to taste the entries while waiting for the winners to be announced. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Read Full Post »

Mount Kearsarge looms in the distance at Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Mount Kearsarge looms in the distance at Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE BIG WINNER at Mount Wachusett AppleFest’s second annual apple pie contest October 15? The Cortland. It was the only variety used by both winners: Julie Piragis of Athol, Massachusetts, in the “apple only” category, and Elinor Ives of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, whose pie was chosen as the best “apple and other” pie.

Both winning pies had outstanding crusts, were nicely spiced, and beautifully presented. Their selection affirms what chefs have known for more than a century: Cortlands make an outstanding pie. While experimenting with several apple varieties can result in unusual textures and flavors, Julie and Elinor demonstrated that a single variety of high-quality apples can carry a pie as well.

The key is to start off with the best fruit. A week after the AppleFest contest, we sampled four apple pies also made with single varieties, including Cortland. They were so good that it was hard to choose among them. But in our informal taste test, Cortlands finished last, behind McIntosh, Mutsu, and Empire (even by Gerri Griswold, who made them)!

Apples can vary from place to place, and season to season. Always begin with firm, fresh apples when making a pie, and taste them first to ensure that they are at peak flavor. Applesauce is forgiving of a less-than-perfect apple. But if you are going to the trouble of making a pie, choose the best textured, and most flavorful, apples you can find.

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland, obviously, makes an excellent choice. If you think only in red or green when it comes to apples, consult a Cortland to see a stunning example of something in between. A large, beautiful apple, it comes in shades of deep red with green and yellow streaks. Its sweet-tart flavor is similar to its McIntosh parent, but a little less tangy. It is less juicy than a Mac as well, and it retains its shape better when cooked.

In addition to being a great baking apple, Cortlands are excellent for fresh eating. They are famous in salads, too, as their white flesh browns slowly after slicing.

While Cortlands owe much of their great flavor to the McIntosh, their firm texture, striping, and size are attributes of their other parent, Ben Davis. The skin of Cortlands can become waxy over time, another feature of Ben Davis. Cortlands were developed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, in 1898.

Here is the winning apple pie entry from Julie Piragis:

Julie Piragis' winning apple pie. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Julie Piragis’ winning apple pie. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple Pie

Crust

2 c flour

2/3 c butter-flavored Crisco

1 t salt

7 T ice-cold water

Filling

Enough Cortland apples to fill 9-inch pie plate (heaping)

¾ c sugar

1 t salt

1 t cinnamon

dash of nutmeg

dash of salt

2 T flour

Put 2 T butter on top of apples and add top crust.

Mix one egg with 2 T Half n’ Half coffee creamer and brush finished pie. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 350° for one hour or until crust is golden brown and apples are tender.

* * *

The winning recipe in the “Apple and Other” category, from Elinor Ives:

Harvest Apple Pie with Oat-Nut Crust and Cinnamon Pecan Crumble

Elinor Ives's winning apple pie. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Elinor Ives’s winning apple pie. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Filling

1/2 c butter

3 T flour

1/4 c water

1/2 c sugar

1/2 c packed brown sugar

1/4 t cinnamon

8 Cortland apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

Crust

3/4 c flour

1/2 c quick-cooking oats

1/4 c chopped pecans

1/4 c chopped walnuts

1 T dark brown sugar

1 T white sugar

1/2 c butter, melted 

Cinnamon Pecan Crumble

3 T granulated sugar

1 c plus 2 T flour

1/4 c plus 2 T packed dark brown sugar

1/4 t cinnamon

1/2 c butter, chilled and cut into chunks

1 c pecans

Preheat oven to 400°F.

To make filling, melt butter in an electric skillet or a saucepan large enough to hold all the apples. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature, add apples, and let simmer until apples are cooked.

To make the crust, mix all crust ingredients together in a bowl and press into a pie plate.

Bake crust for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

To make Cinnamon Pecan Crumble, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor until crumbly, then bake on a cookie sheet at 400°F for 10 minutes.

When crust is cool, spoon filling into crust and top with Cinnamon Pecan Crumble.

* * *

TO LEARN MORE about apples, visit our New England Apples website.

Read Full Post »